Category Archives: Gardening

Everything is Fine

Judging by the size of the elm tree that I tried to remove, it has been a year since I did any work in my backyard.

But we have winter in Minnesota. It couldn’t have been a year.

It has been too long.

My neglect is a critter’s paradise. Once I found a toad under the overgrown rhubarb. Ever since then, I take a more surgical approach to trimming it back. Who knows what’s under there taking cover in the shade in what might otherwise be an inhospitably hot patch of grass? There was also the time when Brian and I were sitting on the front stoop. We watched a robin collect worms near the hydrangea. She was feeding two fledglings – one hopping in and out from underneath the rhubarb, and the other hiding in the Joe-pye that is finally starting to show signs of flowering. A million birds. A million bees. They don’t seem to mind a few weeds. Chipmunks that sound like birds. Tiny bunnies. Squirrels. Plenty of those. They could not care less.

But of course there are the neighbors to consider.

When you put off weeding your garden for as long as I have – whatever the reasons might be – it can be a challenge to work up the courage to face it. For all I know a gaze of raccoons have set up shop in last year’s sunflower stalks that are leaning against the chain link fence next to the compost bin. In fact, here’s a picture of exactly what I fear. But once I’m out there, the task doesn’t seem so impossible. Big. But not impossible. I enjoy spotting the Queen Anne’s lace that’s trying to blend in with the raspberries. And it’s satisfying to catch a thistle before its seeds have spread. Sometimes the scariest looking weed doesn’t take much to remove. The ragweed that was as tall as me came up pretty easily. And while it was too late by the time I had read about the hazards of touching it, I haven’t suffered any rashes. I enjoy tidying up the place. Sometimes I like to pretend that I am a cow, but I’d be just as happy to be a goat. That way I feel less conflicted about deciding what is to stay and what is to go. The Department of Agriculture has a list of invasive plants and that should be enough. You’re out! On the other hand, I am an empath even when it comes to dandelions. Besides, it can be tricky to make the distinction between a beneficial thistle and a noxious plant.

A day in the garden should burn up one’s ration of decision-making power. But somehow it doesn’t.

Lately I’ve been reading about writing, which can be a sort of procrastination technique if you’re not careful. But I have found it to be useful. I’ve seen several references to the idea that inspiration is something that comes once you start writing. It is not something that you need to write. I have found this to be true. Anyone who exercises knows this as well. You’re sunk if you wait to be in the mood to do it and you’ll feel great if you do it. Pulling weeds. Same thing.

But it can be hard to face these things after so much neglect.

In the case of my yard, there might be raccoons, right?

Instead, I found that the kale I planted when the garden seemed manageable earlier this year was ready to harvest. I had some for lunch. Chopped. Sauteed in a little olive oil and a sliced onion. You can add other veggies but simple is good. Drizzled with lemon juice. On rice. Topped with nuts. Walnuts are good. And raisins. Seriously good.

Instead, the weeds had time to work the soil that fell easily from their roots. Black. Crumbly. Moist. They were there because nothing else was. They were there because that’s what the soil conditions supported. They were there working, accessing nutrients that were unavailable to other plants. Pulling them up to the top. They were there to help in my absence and all I can say is “Thank you!”

Instead the compost has broken down. The bin that was filled over the wintertime is now just half full. Slide open the access door on the side of it and you will see that the worms have arrived.

Everything is fine.

No need to worry.

Get back to it.

Try again tomorrow.

Just do the next thing and see what inspiration has to say next.

Harvesting Butternut Squash in the Middle of the Night

We have a lot of squash to share.

We have a lot of squash to share.

Last Wednesday night I was in my voice class at the Guthrie Theater when the teacher mentioned that she had been working hard in her garden that day to get ahead of the hard frost expected that night. I couldn’t think about anything else after that. During a break I sent a frantic text to Brian, “Frost! Plants!”

Dreading a late night scramble to salvage what we could, I perked up when I remembered a stocking stuffer Santa had given me last year or the year before – a headlamp. Intended to help me with the ongoing painting projects around the house, the lamp would free up a hand otherwise needed for a flashlight. It would make it a lot easier to pick tomatoes and to find the butternut squash that had taken over the yard this summer.

Note to self: Headlamp definitely makes it on the list of essential household tools.

I’ve already used one of them for a very nice squash soup. Let me know if you would like to have some squash. We’re happy to share.

Actually… I’m sort of famous for growing gourds

I got my picture in the paper at Wurtsmith Air Force Base for growing these gourds.

I got my picture in the paper at Wurtsmith Air Force Base for growing these gourds.

Truthfully, I’m not sure why out of six kids I was the one who got credit for the gourds. I don’t remember planting them. This is something my parents must have noted. I was quoted as saying something about watering them every day. I do remember objecting to the outfit I am wearing in the picture. It was actually a very cute orange jump suit.

Someone from the paper noticed the gourds covered the front of the house and thought it would make a nice picture.

Someone from the paper noticed the gourds covered the front of the house and thought it would make a nice picture.